On July 6, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order to tackle permitting backlogs and delays, identify solutions to improve the permitting process on federal lands and access to additional parcels of federal land deemed appropriate for mineral development.
Despite the fact that the statute requires that the Department of the Interior and the BLM process Applications for Permit to Drill review within 30 days, the average time to process a drilling permit application in FY16 was 257 days. The directive will expedite the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program and the Federal Solid Mineral Leasing Program, which are major sources of income for the federal government .
“Oil and gas production on federal lands is an important source of revenue and job growth in rural America but it is hard to envision increased investment on federal lands when a federal permit can take the better part of a year or more in some cases,” said Zinke. “This is why I’m directing the BLM to conduct quarterly lease sales and address these permitting issues. We are also looking at opportunities to bring support to our front line offices who are facing the brunt of this workload. This is just good government and will further support the president’s goal of American energy dominance.”
As of January 31, the BLM had 2,802 Applications for Permit to Drill pending. The five BLM field offices with the highest numbers of pending applications are listed below which account for 2,060 or approximately 74 percent of the total pending applications:
—Casper, Wyoming: 526
—Vernal, Utah: 506
—Dickinson, North Dakota: 488
—Carlsbad/Hobbs, New Mexico: 388
—Farmington, New Mexico: 152
Last year, the Department of the Interior canceled or postponed 11 lease sales. By contrast, the Trump Administration has already held more lease sales in the first six months than in the previous year, offered more acreage in those sales, and raised more revenue than in the same time period last year.
“The Department of the Interior will be a better neighbor in the new Trump Administration,” Zinke added. “As is outlined in this order, we will look at ways to improve the process and make sure regulations serve their intended purpose rather than create a mountain of useless paperwork. By streamlining approvals of responsible energy development on federal land, and actually holding lease sales, we will generate revenue for local communities and the treasury to fund the things we all value like national parks, infrastructure, and education.”
Secretarial Order 3354 is in compliance with the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires oil and gas lease sales “be held for each State where eligible lands are available at least quarterly and more frequently if the Secretary of the Interior determines such sales are necessary.”
The order also directs the BLM to address permitting backlogs and identify areas where improvements can be made in the permitting process.
Currently, an applicant pays a non-refundable $9,610 processing fee to the BLM per application filed. Approved applications are valid for two years from the date of approval as long as the lease does not expire during that time. For FY18, the president’s budget proposal includes a $16 million increase in the oil and gas management program to support permitting and rights-of-way processing.